It’s pretty obvious that the People’s Republic of China is committing genocide on – or something close to – its Muslim Uighur population. Everything from concentration camps to mass sterilization to advertisements for “beautiful” female slaves in Xinjiang newspapers has made the rounds. Sometimes the stories are doubted at first – it is always wise to be aware of WWI-style atrocity propaganda – but in each case the rumor has been borne out by reputable news outlets and national governments across the political spectrum and around the world.
It’s also pretty obvious that no Muslim-majority country has peeked anywhere in protest, and that no Western government – with the exception of the partial and limited exception of Donald Trump, who shows up in his own inimitable way – had much to say either .
I am not a foreign policy wonk, I am a constitutional wonk. You will see me write about the prerogative of the UK and its relationship with Brexit, or about the federal problems resulting from, for example, the closings of Australian state borders caused by COVID-19. When I write things like this, I do my best to be as open as possible. This is supported by legal training and practice. Lawyers need to provide sound advice to their clients, consider approvals in a weak case, provide comments on whether litigation makes sense (usually no; it is preferable to keep people out of court), and most importantly, an accurate presentation of the facts in the immediate case. Once a lawyer, always a lawyer, I suppose.
To that end, I am going to involve my lawyer on foreign policy on the basis that someone has to present some obvious truths. I don’t have a “foreign policy establishment” to please.
On the question of Islamic calm in the face of the Chinese butcher shop, only part of it is due to the fact that the countries concerned know that their own human rights records are deplorable, and criticizing China means drawing curious glances closer to you. Likewise, only part of it has to do with being bought and paid for by China’s Belt and Road Infrastructure and Regional Development Program.
Much of the reaction, I’m afraid, is that China could (and would if pushed) turn the entire Islamic world into a grease stain without breaking the sweat, and with little resistance from a now energy-independent West. Even the strongest Muslim countries like Pakistan and Turkey know this. Meanwhile, the Arab petrostats and Iran are on the rise thanks to a combination of COVID-19, global climate protection policies and the fact that the US, Australia and Canada have become energy giants.
Also compare how the Australian Scott Morrison and the British Boris Johnson are so demonstratively bidding for the Hong Kong people. I wouldn’t be surprised if the entire population of this island were proportionally divided between the two Anglophone states. After all, they are exactly the kind of immigrants that both countries want. Australia, in particular, has taken a decades-long form with its points-based immigration system – a policy that Britain is now copying line by line.
Sometimes this reality was brought close to me with particular intensity. Last month I was unable to convince a single gay friend to sign a petition against the Uyghur genocide in China (“Muslims take everyone and don’t give” was the most common answer). Everyone agreed that the person promoting the petition (British DJ and radio announcer Maajid Nawaz) is a decent and humane man. It was religion that proved the crux of the matter. Asylum seekers are drowning trying to cross the Canal and there is little more than a collective shrug from the broad British public. The spectacle of the Islamic countries, insulting Emmanuel Macron and France without whimpering about China, is now fuel for endless black humor.
All of this is under the radar. It is not the public that is leaving La France from officials who call French journalist Anne-Elisabeth Moutet the “newly awakened American quality press” or who ordinary French people on the street dismiss as “presse anglo-saxonne”. They are people who talk to one another in private and quietly, but who inexorably turn their backs on an entire religion and, above all, their followers. “Let the Chinese do it” is a common sentiment.
Mind you, some of the comments on French politics – and laïcité in particular – have been denied, up to and including the rejection that France is a liberal polity. Again from above: Not all liberalism is based on Anglophone state neutrality in the face of competing ideas of the good. France shows a form of perfectionist liberalism. It was France that the Canadian philosopher Charles Taylor thought of when he argued that liberalism too could be “a fighting creed”.
What sets Francophone perfectionist liberalism apart from the American or even British variant is the way in which it embraces an objective theory of the good life and the belief that it is the job of the state to (sometimes) provide that good life to its citizens bring close. In France, this “objective theory” is a result of Laïcité: religion is simply banned from public space. A French friend said grimly, “It will be a shock to American leftists who believe France will award Muslims for particularly bad treatment when they first open a history book and discover what the Republic has done to Catholics.”
In this context, it is noteworthy – since the beheading of schoolteacher Samuel Paty – that Macron’s government closed 50 French Muslim associations and deported 231 “radicalized foreigners,” which is consistent with what historically conservative Catholics have received, more Vichy than France were. It is also the way European powers (including Great Britain) once “domesticated” Christianity. When the Puritans went to Plymouth and took a ship for the New World, those left behind were not disappointed.
By bringing religion and its expression under the jurisdiction of the state and setting limits on acceptable behavior, the European states of the 19th century ensured that the various denominations lost their competitive advantage and became more cultural than creeds. This did not happen in the US (for both historical and constitutional reasons), which is why it is even more religious than Poland – the most Christian state in the EU.
… If you are unwilling to opt for Australian-style authoritarianism and social conformity, where intense pressure is exerted on anyone who is a little strange – not just Muslims – then it is a serious argument that it does the only sensible answer to a religion whose adherents cause persistent fits of anger is laïcité.
Certain things benefit from these basic facts. Deconstructing community networks to protect and promote the views that lead to terrorism is one of the better options available to us. If you have poison in a wound, pull it. If you have people determined to provoke intergroup conflict, rule them out. Deportations are a legitimate and necessary tool for dealing with networks of extremists.
Australia – a far more conventional Anglophone liberal democracy than France, albeit an unusually authoritarian one, which its COVID-19 response has shown to a global audience – has been doing so for many years, sometimes with such intensity that individuals have been stateless. It has also adapted its immigration system so that immigrants of all types are predominantly middle-class and educated. In this regard, note that the majority of Australia’s Islamist “foreign fighters” (the total number is small) come from a single region in a single country (Lebanon) and from families who were admitted to Australia prior to the introduction of the points-based immigration regime.
Some understanding of what drives the PRC’s behavior towards its Muslim minority is also necessary as it is certainly not communism. Trust me, if I could blame communism for something, I would. I’ve written whole books about it. However, China is no more communist than me.
China is the other great world civilization. Its historical wealth and cultural achievements correspond to those of Western Europe. All countries in Western Europe put together. Part of its immense cultural baggage, however, is the widespread view that monotheism is intellectually undemanding and morally primitive. And the thing is, China’s hugely numerically dominant Han compared to their own philosophical traditions have a point. China was ancient and civilized and extraordinary when both Jesus and Mohammed were in their cradles. With the exception of the early Roman Empire and Europe / North America after the Enlightenment, China was always a “top nation”. And it is Chinese friends who have argued that France is the only European country defending the Enlightenment: “Something you should all be doing.” The Chinese word for “wokies” (báizuǒ; 白 左) is brutally uncomplicated in a way that even an infantilizing English diminution cannot.
If you’re not ready to go with the Australian-style authoritarianism and social conformity, which puts a heavy pressure on anyone who is a little weird – not just Muslims – then it is a grave case that it does The only sensible answer to a is religion, the adherents of which provoke persistent tantrums, is laïcité.
The alternative to Emmanuel Macron’s approach (or Australia’s even tougher policies) is to accept the end of liberalism one way or another. The aim of IS was to remove the “gray areas” of coexistence between the Islamic and Western populations. People will not stand when their cathedrals are burned, their teachers beheaded, and their journalists massacred instead of accepting that errors of integration require active intervention. It’s much easier to pause the cycle before it starts than to stop it once it’s underway.
Failure to allow communities to live side by side in the West also implies tacit recognition of China’s approach, at least from Beijing’s point of view. And that means that the resignation to reality – instead of e pluribus unum – will be the fruit of a fashionable but unpopular policy to promote diversity instead e pluribus nihil.
Nothing of the many.